Two and half days on, I’m calling it: that Timo Werner goal in the 39th minute against Newcastle on Monday night is going to stand. I’m absolutely confident of it now, although I can’t deny that I’m only just out of the other end of a long spell of anxiety about it.
There was, of course, the now standard passage of uncertainty which gets inflicted on us in the immediate aftermath of goals, while we wait for the crew at Stockley Park to put their biscuits down, warm up their VHS player and find the applicable remote. But even after that cumbersome and somewhat joy-draining phase was finally cleared, and the ball was found not to have entered the airspace around Olivier Giroud’s knuckles on the way over, one’s doubts somehow lingered.
Indeed, even when the half-time whistle went, it seemed to me entirely plausible that the official video jockeys would spend the interval concocting some cat’s cradle of brightly coloured lines that proved somebody offside by the thickness of his shirt in some dusty and long-forgotten passage of the build-up, therefore striking it off before the restart.
And even as the days have passed since then, I’ve lived with the nagging thought at the back of my mind that some kind of hitherto unannounced Ongoing Review Panel was suddenly going to unveil evidence that Timo himself was marginally ahead of the last defender on his way to his car in the Cobham car park three days before the game. Would it really have surprised us? That’s just the way Werner’s luck has been going recently.
But no. They would have had to have come forward by now, wouldn’t they? It stands, then. Chalk another one up to Werner – his fifth for us in the league as it happens, although the way some people were cranking on recently you would have assumed he hadn’t managed it at all this season or ever looked like doing so.
I imagine that, for the player, going through that patch without managing to score must have been extremely irritating – though probably nowhere near as irritating as running your socks off, making chances, providing assists, opening up holes for other players to exploit by being a permanently mobile pest and defender-magnet, leaving the pitch on the winning side at the end of the game, and finding that all people still wanted to talk about was the fact that you hadn’t managed to score.
Enough of that, though. Here was a match in which Werner ran his socks off, made chances, provided an assist (his fifth one of those, as well), opened up holes for other players to exploit by being a permanently mobile pest and defender-magnet, left the pitch on the winning side at the end of the game AND scored. Sky made him the Man of the Match, having little alternative, although Mateo Kovacic would have merited at least a place on the podium, in my opinion.
Anyway, the broader picture shows that, on the back of these endeavours, we have now gone six games unbeaten since Thomas Tuchel arrived, have accumulated five successive wins in all competitions and have played nine solid hours of football during which the only person to breach our defence has been Toni Rudiger which, for obvious reasons, doesn’t count. Oh, and Timo Werner has scored. Definitely.
The upshot is that we are in fourth place in the table and just four points off second, and with Liverpool dislodged from the Champions League spots and possibly still gratifyingly on the slide in sixth. Incidentally, in a hurry to point out that particular detail, Gary Neville went to the extent of speaking out of turn on Sky Sports after our game on Monday night, butting in on the presenter during the screening of the table. Poor show. That kind of instant, just-add-water gloating is all very well for the rest of us, but it ill becomes a supposedly authoritative and independent pundit employed to illuminate the game on the platform of a revered broadcaster. It was quite funny, though.
Next up, Southampton away and, beyond them, Atletico Madrid, doubly away in Bucharest. But even while the glamourously sharp bits of the Champions League roll into view, let’s not overlook the fact that we are now a single home win over Sheffield United away from the penultimate round of the FA Cup, which would, of course, mean a trip to Wembley and a great day out for the… oh, yeah. Forgot for a moment there.
At Barnsley last Thursday night, during the performance that put us into the quarter-finals, Tammy Abraham’s goal was arguably eclipsed only by his goal-line clearance, a piece of reflex elasticity which you would normally expect only a seal to be capable of managing.
And hats off to everyone connected with our organisation for their restraint afterwards in not mentioning, by way of extenuating circumstances for what was arguably the most rough-edged performance of the new era, the condition of the pitch, which was surely the elephant in the room during those 90 minutes. In fact, the elephant seemed to have staged a war-game on the grass with a number of its closest friends beforehand, leaving behind a surface which looked highly reminiscent to me of the current condition of my local London common, following lockdown-related overuse.
Still, classic cup conditions, I guess, and an evocative throwback to the days when black and white pictures of the Somme circa 1916 were the very much the inspiration for football’s ‘winter look’.
The Champions League, though? Different time in history, different pitches. Or let’s hope so, anyway.